For over 100 years, Native American children were subjected to ruthless sexual abuse at the hands of priests and teachers after being forced to live in culture-destroying boarding schools, an investigation has revealed. 

Through a systematic effort to eviscerate Native American society, the federal government sent tens of thousands of children to over 500 boarding schools across America between 1819 and 1969. 

While the measures were intended to seize indigenous land and rid generations of Native Americans of their identity, an investigation by the Washington Post revealed how they also opened the door to sickening sexual abuse. 

Deborah Parker, a citizen of the Tulalip Tribes and the chief executive of the National Native American Boarding School Healing Coalition, told the outlet the Catholic church-run Indian boarding schools now stand as ‘a national crime scene.’ 

‘They committed crimes under the cloak,’ she said. ‘They did it in the name of God.’ 

Staggering levels of sexual abuse have been uncovered at Native American boarding schools, where tens of thousands of Indigenous children were forcibly sent from 1819 to 1969. Pictured: The student body at the Carlisle Indian School in Pennsylvania in 1885

Staggering levels of sexual abuse have been uncovered at Native American boarding schools, where tens of thousands of Indigenous children were forcibly sent from 1819 to 1969. Pictured: The student body at the Carlisle Indian School in Pennsylvania in 1885 

The majority of the 500-plus boarding schools were funded by the US government, and essentially designed to strip Native American children of their culture. 

To this end, teachers and priests would carry out punishments including beating the children if they spoke their native language over English, forcibly cutting their long hair, and humiliating them. 

The measures deeply scarred Native American society, and by 1900, one in every five school-age Indigenous children were attending the sadistic boarding schools. 

But while the campaign still stands as a national disgrace, the problems ran far deeper in the 80-plus boarding schools ran by the Catholic Church and its offshoots, extending the harrowing levels of pedophilia within the organization that have been revealed in recent years. 

According to the Washington Post investigation, at least 122 priests and ministers from 22 of the boarding schools were directly accused of sexually abusing Native American children. 

Shockingly, 18 of these schools were found to have employed a credibly accused priest or minister for 91 consecutive years. 

The abuse, a majority of which was notably in the final years of the federal boarding program in the 1950s and 1960s, was reportedly perpetrated against over 1,000 children who were ripped from their families. 

Clarita Vargas, 64, was left helpless at the age of 8 as she was sent to a boarding school before being targeted by a Catholic priest, which she said 'haunted me my entire life'

Clarita Vargas, 64, was left helpless at the age of 8 as she was sent to a boarding school before being targeted by a Catholic priest, which she said ‘haunted me my entire life’ 

St. Mary's Mission in Omak, Washington (pictured), where Vargas was sent, was among 80 Catholic Church-ran boarding schools, which an investigation found were rife with sexual abuse

St. Mary’s Mission in Omak, Washington (pictured), where Vargas was sent, was among 80 Catholic Church-ran boarding schools, which an investigation found were rife with sexual abuse 

Isolated and afraid, children such as Clarita Vargas, now 64, told the outlet that she was left helpless when she was sent to St. Mary’s Mission in Omak, Washington when she was 8. 

She said a priest guided her to his office to watch a movie with other students, before he groped and molested her as she sat on his lap. 

Vargas said she had nowhere to turn as the sexual abuse continued for three years from then, and even today, says it ‘haunted me my entire life.’ 

‘The Church wounded my spirit, took away my soul and robbed me of my childhood,’ she said. 

‘If somebody says you get over the abuse, trust me, you don’t get over it,’ added Geraldine Charbonneau Dubourt, 75, who was sent to a boarding school in Marty, South Dakota. 

At the age of 16, she said a Catholic priest raped her repeatedly in a church basement, and was later forced to get an abortion. 

She was one of nine sisters who were reportedly targeted by priests at the school. 

Survivors said the schools were designed in such a way that made them feel isolated and unable to speak out, as an expert described the boarding schools as a 'predator's wonderland'

Survivors said the schools were designed in such a way that made them feel isolated and unable to speak out, as an expert described the boarding schools as a ‘predator’s wonderland’ 

In recent years, scrutiny has fallen on the treatment of Native children in both Canada and the United States, amid the discovery of mass graves found at several sites where the boarding schools were located. 

In total, estimates place the number of Native American children who died at schools at around 40,000.  

But the level of sexual abuse remained in the dark even as victims spoke out about their ordeals, and the Washington Post admitted that its investigation likely missed victims who never came forward, or never had the chance to. 

For many, this was down to how the boarding schools were designed. 

Native American children were often moved hundreds of miles away from their families, and alienated in a way that made speaking out near-impossible. 

Patrick J. Wall, a former Catholic priest who admitted he was a ‘fixer’ for the church when faced with sexual abuse claims, told The Post that the schools were a ‘perpetrator’s wonderland.’ 

‘They can scream for help, but no one’s going to hear them or believe them,’ said the priest, who now works for victims of the boarding schools. 

The revelations about widespread abuse within the Catholic Church, and the unraveling of its ability to systematically cover up cases, led some survivors to finally feel they can share their trauma. 

‘I’ve been waiting 67 years to tell this story,’ Jim Labelle, a 77-year-old former student at the Wrangell Institute in Alaska, told The Post. 

Like many, he was sent 700 miles from home in the Inupiaq tribe, also in Alaska, and from the time he was torn away from his family and culture, he wasn’t even permitted a name. 

The Native American boarding schools were essentially designed to destroy Indigenous culture, with students ripped from their families, subjected to horrific abuse, and even deprived of having a name or speaking their native language

The Native American boarding schools were essentially designed to destroy Indigenous culture, with students ripped from their families, subjected to horrific abuse, and even deprived of having a name or speaking their native language 

Now, individuals are pointing to the Catholic Church’s crimes because following the previous revelations, ‘it showed that people could stand up against a powerful entity like the church, and that people could be held accountable’, said Native American victim attorney Vito de la Cruz. 

The Catholic Church, while notably apologizing to some victims such as in Canada for its role in ‘cultural destruction’, has never commented or apologized for abuse rampant among their boarding schools. 

When asked by The Post about the abuse allegations, Chieko Noguchi, spokesperson for the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, said: The Catholic Church recognizes and acknowledges that the history that is brought to light regarding the boarding school period of American history may cause deep sorrow in the Native and Indigenous communities.

‘But we also prayerfully hope it may bring real and honest dialogue and lead towards a path of healing and reconciliation with the impacted communities.’ 

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